Most franchises sacrifice individuality in favor of brand recognition and uniformity. Take McDonalds, for example. Whether you’re in Southern California or the backwoods of Nebraska, when you enter McDonalds it has the same look and feel as every other McDonalds you’ve ever entered. When it comes to franchising, this is great for the overall profitability of the company, but when I created the We Rock the Spectrum franchise, I wanted it to be about the community, about the family, and about the children. I care less about uniformity and more about highlighting what makes each location so special and necessary in the larger picture of providing all children—especially those on the spectrum—with a place that they feel safe and that fosters learning, exploration, and sensory-safe experiences.
One of my favorite quotes is “If you have met one child with Autism, you have met one child with Autism.” Simply put, this means all kids are unique, regardless of their developmental levels and abilities. That’s why when expanding my franchise it was so important to me that owners have the opportunity to express their individuality and create a unique gym experience while still furthering the message and feeling of We Rock the Spectrum.
The logos are the same; the look of the gym and the equipment inside are the same, but the gym owners? They each bring a different aspect of expertise, passion, and awareness to the gym. Our owners are Doctors, Occupational Therapists, Moms and Dads, Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapists, Psychologists—the list goes on. But the main point is they all love what they do, and they all use their expertise to influence their gym’s framework. By allowing each owner to have control over what programs and services they offer, it makes our gyms more diverse, dynamic, and beneficial for the kids.
Celebrating Our Differences
I’m proud of how each of the gym locations has grown into its own unique experience while still having the same look and feel that makes We Rock the Spectrum so special. Between all the gyms a variety of classes are offered such as music, yoga, police or fire safety, and social skills. The different gyms serve a variation of different age ranges as well. Some gyms are as small as 1,800 square feet while others are more than 8,000 square feet in area. Much like when it comes to children, we celebrate these differences and believe it’s what makes We Rock the Spectrum so special. Here are some examples of our gyms and what makes them unique:
In Glendale, CA, the location owners Deborah Portnoy and Michael Cohen have a sixteen-year-old, autistic son. Because of this, the facility was built with thirty-foot ceilings to accommodate a higher jump from a trampoline, larger climbing structures, and a recycled, surfboard tabletop. This has allowed Deborah and Michael to focus on supporting older kids, along with young children.
The Northridge, CA location, owned by Dr. Agnesa Papazyan (affectionately known as Dr. Aggie), features several rooms that allow Dr. Aggie to incorporate a private practice within her We Rock the Spectrum location. She holds several social sills classes and has helped developed the We Rock Social Skills Program (WRSSP) for kids to enjoy.
The Berkeley, CA location owners Barbara Broderick and Brian Schroeder have our largest gym at more than 8,000 square feet, featuring a play floor that is more than 3,200 square feet. This allows the gym to have many rooms, which are then rented to therapists and used for special classes and therapy sessions on a regular basis.
The Tarzana, CA location—our original location and the gym that I personally own—is one of the smaller gyms in the bunch, which is great for young kids. The smaller, more comforting space creates a familiarity and coziness that is warm and inviting for children. They can enjoy the gym without being overwhelmed by the size of a larger location.
Appreciating Our Similarities
Each and every We Rock the Spectrum gym has at least the same ten pieces of specialized, sensory-safe equipment. These ten pieces are where it all started for me as they have been shown to improve the development for children on the spectrum. Here’s a breakdown of the ten pieces and how each piece can help a child:
Zip Line: The zip line is a great way to build upper extremity strength, muscle endurance, enhance the ability to integrate and tolerate movement and help give self-confidence as children challenge themselves to hold on long enough to make it to the other end.
Zip Box with Slide: The zip box is the stepping stool to be able to reach the zip line. The structure also has stairs, a ramp and slide. This unique combination works on motor planning, motor ability, and sequencing.
Crash Pit: The Crash Pit is fun and inviting for all children. It’s a perfect landing spot for the children who crave the crash-and-burn input. You can add a weighted blanket and create a calming quiet space too.
Trampoline: The Trampoline builds lower body strength and helps to teach balance. Children can jump or sit while working on the vestibular perception of movement in the body. This amazing ball of fun also works with the proprioceptive sense for movement in the body as communicated through the ligaments, joints and muscles.
Tunnel: The Tunnel offers a non-threatening cozy hideout for your child. He or she will experience various degrees of resistance as well as tactile and deep touch input.
Carpet Swing: The Carpet Swing is fun and stimulating for swinging, spinning or gliding (swinging from side to side). With the stationary eye hooks it is a great place for a child to read, do school work, or various therapies.
Hammock Swing: The Hammock Swing promotes a state of calmness allowing children to focus. It provides tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive input. The seating offers ergonomic and reclining positions for a variety of uses.
Climbing Structure: The Climbing Structure enhances the body awareness, body scheme, motor planning and bilateral coordination. The child’s body weight, combined with gravity, provides additional proprioceptive feedback to his joints, helping the child coordinate his or her movements.
Bolster Swing: The Bolster Swing is to be straddled like a horse. The pushing and pulling on the ropes gives it motion from side to side and is a great motor planning and motor sequencing activity.
Swivel Rotators/Carabineers with Webbing: The Swivel Rotators give a variety of directions for children to enjoy swinging and work on the vestibular part of the brain. The webbing and carabineers offer a secure way to hang swings for children and give them a chance to enjoy the fun of not knowing exactly what direction their swing will go each time. These 3 important pieces are essential for the strength and mobility of the gym.
Bringing Everyone Together
The diversity in gym size, setup, and services allow We Rock the Spectrum to offer a variety of programs to families so they can find what works best for them. If I, or any of the other owners, feel a child would really benefit from a program offered at a different location, we will readily suggest it to parents. It’s this collaborative and not competitive mindset that helps to make our franchise one big, happy family that works together to further my vision of fostering a learning, exploration, and sensory-safe experience for all children to enjoy.